Expertly Selected by Dr. John F Murray
Why do people suddenly ‘get into’ football during the World Cup?
People’s behavior during the World Cup is very interesting for us psychologists, as we can see many examples of the theories we use in action. Social identities are aspects of our personality that relate in some way to our social surroundings, for example, our nationality, the organization we work for, or a club we are members of. People are usually nicer towards people that share their social identity, and tend to be meaner to those that don’t even if they know nothing else about those people. This happens even if you split people up based on really trivial things such as which artist they prefer. We all have many social identities, and we might act in different ways depending on which one is activated.
During the soccer World Cup, social identity as a member of a country suddenly becomes very visible. So even people who normally don’t follow football feel very motivated to be positive about their country and its team. Generally, people are more tolerant of criticism from an ingroup member compared with an outgroup member because they feel ingroup members are trying to be constructive, whereas outgroup members are trying to be derogatory. People aren’t always tolerant of criticism of their own team though. So during the opening rounds of the World Cup fans may be able to get away with criticising their own team, but nearer the final it will be much less welcome.
Often during the World Cup, a plucky inexperienced team progresses further than expected and suddenly becomes a focus of the tournament. So although there is potential for rivalry, the World Cup really can also bring people from nations all over the world together through their love of football.